Most people will tell you that there are only two things in this world that are permanent: death and taxes. While there is a certain amount of ironic truth to that statement, there are plenty of other things that are pretty stable, and entrepreneurs are continually investing in those businesses and industries. Let’s face it, as long as there are cars and drivers, there will be car washes for people who haven’t got driveways or time. For a smart businessperson, a car wash and detail service can be pretty lucrative, once the initial outlay of capital to purchase car wash equipment is behind them.
Let’s start by talking earning potential. A car wash, even a simple self-serve one, stands a reasonable chance of earning a $50-$100k profit annually. A full-service business can do about five times that. What’s more, owning a car wash isn’t so complex that it takes a ton of business savvy. On the contrary, it’s widely considered a pretty good business for those with little experience.
There are several types of car wash businesses:
- Full Service: This establishment provides complete wash, wax, and detail services, both interior and exterior, and employs staff to do the work while customers wait. The pros of owning a full service business? This type has the highest earning potential. The cons? It’s the most complex, costs the most to start and maintain, and in slow or rough economic periods, having staff can be a liability.
- Automatic Rollover Wash: This is the type of car wash commonly seen in the media, where the vehicle, typically occupied, is placed on a conveyance system that carries it through an automated exterior wash. There is no interior service for this. The pros of owning an automatic rollover wash business? This is a popular type of car wash, as they are actually quite fun for the customer to experience. They require minimal staffing and have high earning potential. The cons? The equipment required for an automatic rollover system is the most expensive and complex to purchase and maintain.
- Self Service: This car wash typically features several garage-like “bays” where users can pull in and wash their vehicle using tools and equipment they can’t find at home. These will include a “wand” device that will distribute hot soapy water at velocity and behave like a hose, as well as disposables to be used for waxing and detailing. The pros of owning a self-service car wash? These require no staffing, only that you or an associate top off supplies regularly. It is nearly free residual income, as no outlay beyond maintenance of equipment and supplies is necessary after opening. The cons? It has the lowest average earning potential among car wash types. Additionally, because it requires no staff, it is typically unsupervised, allowing for deliberate vandalism or misuse of equipment – though there are measures to mitigate that.
Before deciding to open a car wash, do your research and speak to others to determine if the right path is for you. If it is, it can be lucrative and rewarding to do.
Mike is an entrepreneur who has owned many different types of businesses over the years.